‘Salamat, Bien’

Art by Tcheky Nicole Cabrera/ THE FLAME

IN AN online wake, several people pointed out that one distinguished trait of Bienvenido Lumbera—his sense of humor.

Behind his distinctive smile is a story worth to tell, and the jokes he told around his friends and family will be missed. 

Smiling as she talked about Lumbera and their memorable times together, actress Bibeth Orteza said in the wake, “He really had a sense of humor.” 

Charlson Ong, a colleague in the PH chapter of the International PEN recalled how he once shared a dingy room with Lumbera while they were in a Baguio workshop. The bathroom had a washbowl that was barely supported by a mesh wire.

“I remember him as a trooper,” Ong told The Flame. “At lunch, [Lumbera] was regaling us about how he had to keep the sink from collapsing while trying to pull up his underpants. There was no rancor of anger, just great humor.”

For the ones who had the privilege to know Lumbera deeply, they will always cherish those times he made them laugh.

A National Artist

A writer, a teacher, an activist, a husband and a father—Bienvenido Lumbera will forever remain in everyone’s memory as each. To the country, moreso, he will forever be known as a National Artist of Literature.

He was born on April 11, 1932 in Lipa, Batangas. Throughout, he lived a meaningful life through literature, film, activism, and teaching—all of it making his legacy of noble greatness.

Lumbera passed away on September 28 at age 89. From there, hundreds and perhaps thousands of the people who knew him were shattered by the news.

READ: National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera dies at 89

Lumbera’s family, friends, and colleagues shared their eulogy in an online wake hosted by LIKHAAN: University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing.

A true lodi

Despite his achievements, Lumbera was often described by his friends and former colleagues as humble and easy to work with.

UNITAS editor-in-chief Maria Luisa “Lulu” Reyes told The Flame, “He was one of the kindest men you could ever meet. I know for a fact that he… helped a lot of people under all kinds of difficult circumstances.”

She added that Lumbera rarely turned down invitations to lecture if he knew the audience could learn a lot from what he had to share. As his former student, Reyes also shared that Lumbera was very generous in helping scholars and his students.

Despite being well-respected in his field, Lumbera still knew how to show his love to others. “He is an intellectual giant but he knew how to express how much he valued his friends and family,” Orteza said in her eulogy. 

In addition, Lumbera was not left behind in popular culture as he was a fan of contemporary musicians such as Gloc-9, Ben&Ben, Joey Ayala, and BTS.

According to Gloc-9, he first met Lumbera in his album launch of MKNM: Mga Kwento ng Makata, and from there, their friendship started. Gloc-9 told Lumbera he could skip the long line but refused and remained in-line. 

Although Lumbera is immortalized as a National Artist of Literature,  he will best be remembered as someone with pure kindness. 

Inspiring young minds

Lumbera taught in various schools, mainly the University of the Philippines Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University. Throughout, he was a great teacher who became a figure of inspiration to his students.

Being a literature and journalism major at that time, Lulu Reyes admitted that she immediately enrolled in one of his classes when she heard that Lumbera would be teaching in UP Diliman. “When he became my teacher… I was amazed. There he was, the teacher who was all-present in the classroom,” she reminisced.

Asked on her favorite memory with Lumbera, she said that being his student and colleague is “favorite enough.” She added that he was the one who introduced her into editing serious magazines and academic journals.

Now, as the editor-in-chief of UNITAS, Reyes shared, “Whatever little sense of confidence I might have imbibed in this line of work, I owe entirely to [Lumbera], right from the start, no ifs and buts. He mentored me all the way around.”

Scholar Laurence Marvin Castilo met Lumbera just a few years ago. He said, “[Lumbera] was already in his 80s when he taught us, but he was still very sharp and lucid […] [He is] often launching into an erudite discussion that would leave the entire class dazzled with his encyclopedic knowledge.”

One of Castillo’s favorite memories with Lumbera was when they met at an event and Lumbera told him, “O, balitaan mo ‘ko. Makukuha mo rin ‘yang tenure mo.”

Inspired so much by Lumbera’s teaching, Reyes and Castilo are now educators. Reyes teaches literature at the University of Santo Tomas, while Castillo teaches cultural studies at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

‘A man of the people’

Aside from writing, Lumbera is also known for rallying against the oppressive forces of the late dictator.

During Martial Law, Lumbera made sure he used his pen to fight against state oppression. Hence, he edited underground publications that aimed to challenge Marcos’ regime.

Lumbera was one of the writers who were imprisoned as he had spent almost a year in Fort Bonifacio.

While Lumbera was released from prison earlier than his close-friend Ricky Lee, he still tried his best to make sure Lee is doing well despite the situation.

Recalling a despondent memory in his eulogy, Lee shared, “Sa kulungan, when I attempted to kill myself, binantayan niya ako 24/7 sa labas ng kulungan […] Lagi siyang nandiyan.”

Even years after the Martial Law, Lumbera was still rallying along with his students.

Castillo told The Flame, “We would… see each other in literary events… as well as in protest rallies.”

Ang kaniyang sining ay isang sining na nagsisilbing makatotohanan,” director Joel Lamangan described Lumbera’s writings in the online wake. “Isa siya sa mga tagapagtaguyod ng karapatang pantao.”

“He vigorously fought against state oppression,” film and theatre director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna said in the wake. “Lumbera was not only a man of the arts but also truly a man of the people.”

Salamat, Bien

The name Bienvenido Lumbera will never be forgotten and lost in this world. He paved a way and lived his life to where his name will carry the message of hope, love, and literature.

As a professor and a writer, Ong described him, “Dr. Lumbera was always the voice of reason and compassion. He offered trenchant insight clearly and without theatrics, often finding something positive to say of every piece of work.”

Without question, Bienvenido Lumbera is a force of nature in the Philippine letters.

As Orteza said in her eulogy, “Mahirap makalimutan ang isang Bienvenido Lumbera.”

Ang alaalang iniwan mo sa amin ay mananatili habambuhay,” Lamangan said in his speech.

All of them—the people who met and loved Lumbera—sat in front of their computers as they mourned for their lost friend, lost teacher, and lost family.

With tears sliding by their cheeks, they utter one heartbreaking goodbye. For the last time, they said, “Salamat, Bien. Salamat sa lahat.F

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